Gabon vil­lagers trou­bled by ‘sa­cred’ tree be­ing cut down

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST - BY PA­TRICK FORT

“No­body should sell this wood. It pro­tects the for­est. But those who sell it will be hunted by the spir­its of the for­est,” warns Daniel Mes­saAbaga, a guardian of Gabon’s Ke­vazingo trees.

The el­derly man, born around 1930, sits on his porch at Ben­dous­sang in the north of the densely forested equa­to­rial coun­try, trou­bled when fel­low vil­lagers sell the hard­wood — some­times from trees five cen­turies old — to sawmills and col­lec­tors.

Bet­ter known in the West as Bub­inga, Ke­vazingo is much sought af­ter in Gabon and Cameroon, but un­like the equally prized and abun­dant Ok­oume, it is rare and trees take many years to ma­ture. They can grow more than 40 me­ters tall, with a trunk di­am­e­ter the size of a man.

Tim­ber from Ke­vazingo trees is highly val­ued in Asia. The Ja­panese and Chi­nese use it to make chic ta­bles and chairs, as well as wooden bells, pan­els and spe­cialty gui­tars, which count among ex­port prod­ucts.

The wood is hard, heavy and dense. It ranges in color from a pink­ish red through ruddy brown with streaks of black or pur­ple. One con­nois­seur told AFP that “Keva” is es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ated for the lovely de­signs in the grain.

Com­pared with other trop­i­cal hard­woods, Ke­vazingo comes at an as­tro­nom­i­cal price. Cut into a sin­gle piece with suf­fi­cient girth, a sin­gle cu­bic me­ter can fetch be­tween one and two mil­lion CFA francs (US$1,700-3,400) in the cap­i­tal Li­bre­ville, a source close to the trade says. But on av­er­age, a cu­bic me­ter sells for 300 to 600 eu­ros.

“The lead­ing buy­ers here in Bitam are Chi­nese. ‘Keva’ sells ac­cord­ing to its di­am­e­ter. The price can reach 200,000 CFA francs here if the di­am­e­ter is large,” says Jimmy Am­n­vene Nk­ounou, owner of a com­pany in the town named “Re­spect du bois” (Re­spect For Wood).

The busi­ness is to­tally above board, Nk­ounou adds. “I ac­quire Ke­vazingo with my per­mit and I do so in le­gal fash­ion in the ar­eas where I’m au­tho­rized to op­er­ate.”

He points out, how­ever, that there can be “dis­putes be­tween vil­lages. Some­times there are peo­ple who don’t want any log­ging.”

‘Sub­stan­tial traf­fick­ing’

Some trees are more than 500 years old, ac­cord­ing to Nk­ounou. To chop down the big­gest ones, the area around each tree must first be de­for­ested, then a ramp is dug into the soil to hold the trunk when it falls. The ex­tremely heavy wood can then be loaded on to a lorry.

AFP

A file photo taken Oct. 11, 2012 shows peo­ple vis­it­ing the So­ci­ete Na­tionale des Bois du Gabon (Na­tional Wood Com­pany of Gabon) (SNBG) in Owendo, port of Li­bre­ville, Gabon.

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